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Wild Blue Yonder

Speak of the devil… A big alpine mission! Wicked.

With the high pressure system giving one last day of good light, Ian and I decided to go for the Single Bench couloir on Mt. Tupper. The plan was to dump all the gear and one guy near the avalanche shed, drive to Hermit parking and then bike down to the gear. Shortly after leaving Golden though, I heard a hiss… what was that? The bike tire. Seems the poor tired old $20 town bike wasn’t going to be of much use today. So instead I had to walk the click to the gear.

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We headed upward too early, just 100m or so before the snow shed, and had to battle a bit of bush. But before long, we were in the right gully, and looking straight up the Single Bench. We skinned up in the shade from the mass of Mcdonald’s north face until after 800m the sun’s descent down Tupper and our ascent up met and we went from freezing to sweating. In the darkness, we discussed the best way to carry whiskey in day-trip quantities. Ian thought tylenol bottles, but airplane mini-bottles were the best way I reckoned. When you start with such a small amount, any spillage would be disastrous for morale.

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After a touch of skinning in the sun, it was time to start bootpacking. It’s super nice when both guys have plates, so you can split leading between each other. If one guy doesn’t have them, they’re basically half breaking trail following the guy on plates, so you never get a respite from busting trail. There was no way we would’ve made it in decent time without them, every now and then there was a good supportive crust buried under light pow, but most of it was creamy sluff debris ontop of lighter snow, up to your thighs with plates.

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Before long we got to a more open area, and ontop of that the couloir that continued on was protected by a 20 ft ribbon of ice on the right, and 10ft of the same on the left. Ian wasn’t feeling like unprotected ice climbing (we didn’t bring a rope) so I stole one of my more technical axes back from him and had at ‘er. It would’ve been nice to take the plates off for the quite narrow chimney of ice, but I was on it before I even thought of that. It didn’t take long to get up in any case. After that was a short snow couloir. I knew this left branch went nowhere, and I would have to get back into the right branch ontop of the 20ft icefall. The first snow slope I attempted over the little ridge separating the couloirs felt a bit too sketchy, a 60-odd degree unsupported snow slope only 50 feet from the little ice climb. I gave up on it and went up some more, to a nearly identical slope. It was a bit further from the ice though, with I thought enough decent snow in the couloir below to have a half decent chance of arresting a fall. I crushed and kicked the crap out of every step on the traverse before committing to it, and after some of that I was on the other side.

The rest of the couloir to the top was easier climbing, but there were quite a few rock steps that I knew would be interesting on the way down. At the top I was treated to some views of Swiss and Columbia, but it was friggin cold as the wind blew through the crack in Tupper’s ridge so I didn’t enjoy it for long before heading down. Descending the top pitch was chock full of memorable turns, from steep and crusty snow to pow, from sidesteps on smooth rock to mini sends over spiky rocks, I got to use the whole bag of tricks. Before long I was back at the ice. The snow quality below was too poor, the landing too flat, and the take off too committing with 5 or 10 feet of  ice too narrow for skis leading up to the lip. So I downclimbed without plates, and it was substantially less sketchy than I expected, I guess I’m getting better at downclimbing.

Then I met up with Ian and we skied down. What a great ski, super direct down to the highway, pow and soft sluff piles, a frisky shallow slab here and there to keep you honest, great fun. Once we got out of the side branches and into the main chute where all the couloirs above combine, Ian was off and sent the whole thing I think without stopping all the way to the highway. Another great day in the mountains.

4 thoughts on “Wild Blue Yonder”

  1. Nice one! I guess a lot of thin icy and rocky sections could have been easier to negotiate later in the season with a deeper snowpack but timing this one right is pretty tricky with it being south facing and the winter restricted area that opens at 7:00 am at the earliest. So good work and play safe out there!

      1. Yeah, definitely becomes super hard to time with more solar input. Especially to get decent conditions the whole way, there’s a lot of terrain that funnels together and kills snow quality lower down. Bit of billy goating is good fun anyways. The north couloir that hooks up with it is pretty scary, at the time of Doug Sproule’s book it had yet to be skied, it’s a good amount of ice climbing most of the season. And a big cornice overlooking it, the way the terrain is there makes me think it’s massive, couldn’t actually see over it. So not really a safer ascent route, maybe if you’re a super confident ice climber but you’d still have to tunnel through who knows what at the top.

      2. On second look through my pictures, that north side couloir doesn’t look too bad. It might be a good way to go, certainly moreso later in the season as the sun builds strength. Hopefully the cornice doesn’t build as quickly.

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